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Four-String Serenade

Following a pandemic-canceled tour with Tegan and Sara, Chula Vista's Jackie Mendoza is set to release her uniquely blended sound
Credit: Tayo Oyekan
four-string serenade, jackie mendoza

Jackie Mendoza’s bilingual sound is growing more versatile. Not pictured: her ukulele.

Credit: Tayo Oyekan

In high school, Jackie Mendoza dreamed of seeing her name on a Broadway marquee. The Chula Vista native took drama class, starred in junior theater productions, and developed her love of music first through musicals. But it wasn’t until after briefly entertaining a theater major in college—then realizing how rigorous and unglamorous a career it really is—that she came to the epiphany that maybe writing and recording her own music was a much more compelling path.

“Once you start doing it professionally, it becomes really intense, and it’s not fun anymore,” she says via a Zoom call from Ohio, where she’s been spending a month taking an audio engineering course. “It was a lot of pressure, and the thing I like to do the most is sing and perform, so I started writing more of my own music.”

As a teenager in Chula Vista, Mendoza took up the ukulele and posted covers to YouTube, eventually learning to use music production software Ableton. She moved to New York City for college and joined the indie rock band Gingerlys, which later morphed into Lunarette—both of which released records through San Diego-based label Topshelf. “I played music in my bedroom,” she says, “but that was the extent of my music life. When I joined [Gingerlys], we played in Brooklyn and would do tours on the East Coast. That was my intro to playing shows.”

While she was playing in those bands, however, she also began to cultivate her own songwriting voice. In 2019, she released the LuvHz EP, which built up a steady stream of accolades and eventually resulted in a tour booked with alt-rock twin-sister duo Tegan and Sara. (Unfortunately, the tour had to be canceled on account of the pandemic.)

After living in Brooklyn for the better part of a decade, Mendoza fell in love with her hometown again and moved back to San Diego where she wrote her debut full-length album, set to be released in early 2023. Loosely speaking, the style of music that Mendoza plays is pop, shaped by the sound of pulsing beats and dreamy electronics. It also features lyrics in both English and Spanish; Mendoza lived in Tijuana until she was six and grew up in a bilingual household.

The X-factor in Mendoza’s sound is her unconventional choice of instruments. She plays a ukulele, which is fed through effects (often sounding unrecognizable), and therefore detached from some of its more precious connotations. She took up the instrument because, as she admits, she was “really bad at the guitar.” But soon enough, she found more to explore through an increasingly manipulated uke.

“I realized I could get a ukulele and buy pedals and effects and play it that way,” she says. “That kind of just started defining my music, because I had never seen that done before.”

Mendoza’s influences and musical direction keep changing as she continues to write and record, her sound growing ever more versatile. With her debut album on the way, she’ll have a new opportunity to showcase the full spectrum of music that she loves.

“It’s music that I really like to listen to,” she says. “I like pop, and I like reggaetón. I like trap music. I like electronic, psych rock—I wanted to put all of that together and tell my story through music. It’s a blend of all the music I like to listen to.”

There’s also one other crucial element she notes: “It has a little of that showtunes touch.”

Jackie Mendoza plays the Escorted Trips festival at the WorldBeat Cultural Center on Saturday, December 3.

By Jeff Terich

Jeff Terich is the music critic behind the blog The Setlist. His writing has been published in Stereogum, Bandcamp Daily, American Songwriter, Fodor's and Vinyl Me Please.

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